How to Deal with North Korea

The flag of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea

This is taken from a much longer post I have been working on called, “What is to be Done.” It is a recitation of the creation of North Korea and the Korean War, and this section of it was my initial intention with the whole piece — a question about what is to be done with North Korea in our modern world.

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How do we deal with North Korea? It has been as Churchill said best of the Soviet Union: a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. No American president (loosely, we may say Eisenhower for having negotiated the armistice) has been able to appropriately deal with the problem of North Korea, and I don’t suggest here to know how best to appropriately deal with them. I can only draw conclusions based on historical trends and information that is known to us. It is my belief that something must be done about Korea, whether South Koreans or others believe there ought not to be something done. Below are my options as to how to deal with the problem.

Trump’s statements on ISIS can be appropriated to fit the Korean conflict

Though Trump is speaking about ISIS, I believe that the same could be said of North Korea. It is still to be debated whether or not Kim Jong-Un is smart, but it can be surely said that Un is working with smart people, as his military has to be equip and ready to fight if necessary. Additionally, North Korean glorifies in its propaganda the destruction of the United States. These films, and all North Korean propaganda against the Western world, is meant to uphold a notion of vengeance for the wrongs the United States did to them in the Korean War. Not to be petty, but remember that the North Koreans struck first — we responded by retaliating against them, an enemy hellbent on our destruction. Let the words of President Truman work as a rebuttal:

“We completely defeat our enemies and make them surrender. And then we help them to recover, to become democratic, and rejoin the community of nations. Only America can do that.” — Harry S. Truman to Henry Kissinger, 1961

Option 1: “Bomb the Shit out of Them.”

This is of course the option to reopen the Korean War. The tension along the DMZ cannot be sustained forever, and though North Korea has allowed some conciliation between the two states, they have not stopped their oppressive programs, indoctrination, and general mistreatment of their population, 1% of which of course lives in luxuriant wealth, aware of their abnormal status within the state; meanwhile, the rest of the population suffers.

There is also the recent death of Otto Warmbier, whose release is a not-so-subtle “Fuck You” cake delivered to the government United States, and might even considered an act of war. I would not necessarily place it on such a level, but surely it’s a high and grave offense. The message is clear though, and it should not be taken lightly.

South Koreans have sometimes said that they have no desire to reunite with the North Koreans due to the significant cultural differences that now exist as a result of the near fifty years of anxiety between them. Additionally, a reignited Korean War could precipitate a refugee crisis on par with the Syrian Crisis emerging out of the Middle East, which the South Koreans are not prepared for. Such a crisis could potentially contribute to a destabilization of the robust South Korean economy, that has grown as a result of its capitalistic system, which clashes significantly with the North Korean model of communo-fascism; additionally, it could spell disaster for the region at large. It would not only be South Korea dealing with the mass of refugees, but the entire Far East region composed of China, Japan, Russia, and Taiwan. As a result, a unified Korea could mean disaster for the South Korean economy, similar to the disparity between West and East Germany following the second World War, even though many of the disparities have been largely erased due to the support of NATO. A similar situation could potentially be brought about in the Korean Peninsula, of course, this would require the coordination of the Far Eastern states — coordination which China is making difficult to compose due to their resistance to any substantive compromise with the United States on North Korea.

During the Korean War, the Soviet Union, China, and the emergent Communist Korean government all triangulated on South Korea in a hasty month before their attack; I have faith that if China were to support a North Korean offensive, such a preemptive strike could be organized as in 1950. Perhaps the most prescient reason many South Koreans object to a potential reopening of the war with North Korea has to do with the short-term situation of Seoul as a target. As discussed, the North Korans quickly took most of South Korean, pushing them all the way to Pusan in the south. Seoul burned then, and they fear Seoul would burn now, a much more difficult situation to reconcile today, due to the fact that in 1950, Seoul had a population of just over one million; today, Seoul is home to 24 million. Korea currently has numerous artillery aimed at Seoul, in the event of an outbreak of war, and though not all of them have true capabilities to hit the city, a significant number of them do. Potentially, too, there is a nuclear warhead ready to be dropped on the city. South Korea has no nuclear weapons, putting them at a significant disadvantage to the North Koreans, who are, unlike many nations in this postwar period of ours, willing to use them, having threatened to due so numerous times in the past. If the Korean War were to reignite, initiated by either side, it could be a harrowing repeat of June 1950.

This is perhaps the most significant drawback of this option, and what makes the situation so puzzling. The potential for the instantaneous human loss of life is tremendous, and makes executing the option difficult. Potentially, an evacuation could take place in the northern South Korean cities that are close to the North Koran artillery range, but word of this evacuation could spread North Korea quicker than it could take place.

The other difficulty of the plan is mobilization.

Though there are a hundred times as many active duty United States soldiers in South Korea today, and South Korea’s reserves number over three million, mobilization could still take too long to execute before significant damage could be done. North Korea has nearly 1.2 million active soldiers prepared to pour over the border at a much faster rate than the United South Korean and American forces could repel them (without the aforementioned triangulation of nations). Though this would likely occur only within the first week or two of initial combat, it could be devastating and be a repeat of those events that opened the Korean War in 1950. But, this is a short-term cost to what could potentially be a long-term benefit for the world at large: one less unstable nuclear state to contend with, and a step towards greater global peace. In this scenario, as well, the members of the North Korean government are tried and likely executed for crimes against humanity, and the United Nations*, in addition to NATO, provides economic aide to the newly unified Korea. North Korea’s constitution is abolished and South Korea’s adopted; North Korean refugees are introduced and reeducated. Attempts to reimpose North Korean rule by radicals is squelched quickly by armed forces.

Additionally, in regards to mobilization, potentially before any strike against North Korea is engaged, other offenses are enacted, economically and diplomatically. Economically, Trump and co. are already in the process of continuing to press sanctions on China and North Korea, so long as North Korea continues to develop its nuclear program. In reality, much like Japanese hornets, this only seems to kick the nest and make them angrier. At the same time, it’s a means of continuing to intimidate and make apparent to China that something must be done about North Korea, or they will suffer economically. Diplomatically speaking, the United States and NATO nations must begin pressing the United Nations to outs North Korea and other dictatorial regimes from the coalition of nations. Though the United Nations is really more like Model United Nations in more cases than not, as the United Nations continues to grow in strength, North Korea loses a key element of their position to bargain with other nations when conferences convene. Much like the Soviet Union on the eve of the Korean War, they would have no ability to veto any action that pushes against them. These two tactics could be key in planning an offensive against North Korea by pressuring them into cooperative diplomacy.

*In this scenario, I’m engaging in a bit of wishful thinking. The United Nations is not at all strong enough, or as it once was, to produce any real economic support for North Korea. In recent years, it is becoming a more imposing force, and it would be the hope that, in the future, The United Nations finally has the financial and military backing to be a stable world organization that would solidify its position as the modern Congress of Vienna, and the realization of the Paris 1919 talks, Roosevelt’s Four Policemen, and be a real step towards the alleviation of global crises at large.

Option 2: Appeasement.

This option has been the primary option for many years now, and it has gotten us nowhere. A restatement of appeasement, though, could come in the form of a forceful attempt to work with North Korea. The most significant hurdle to leap over, though, is to get the North Korea to admit they have committed crimes against humanity, which of course, they never will. Hitler and Stalin never stated that there were death camps and gulags in their nations, and there is no reason to suppose that the Kim regime will in the near future. This makes dealing with the North Koreans difficult, because it creates a moral gray similar to the moral gray created in World War 2 when Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to deal with Stalin to thwart Hitler. They of course did, but was the cost worth it?

The Cold War grew out of the alliance between America, Britain, and Russia, and soon it was merely a struggle between America and Russia for competing power over the world. While it was a valiant struggle, the lingering effects of the conflicts within the war still cast a shadow over the world today, the Middle East as a prime example of this. Before the Cold War though, before the emergence of the agreement between America, Russia, and Britain, attempts to deal with Hitler failed, in particular, the policy of appeasement. Warnings were dealt out to Hitler, but he continued to push his boundaries, under the threat that if they did not appease him, worse would come. Worse came anyways when they gave him what they wanted. A similar situation is poised by attempting to continue appeasing the Kim regime as they threaten nuclear war.

At once, this creates, for the rest of the world, a Catch-22: we cannot continue appeasing North Korea because they have nuclear weapons, but because they have nuclear weapons, we must appease them. Somehow, this cycle must be broken if there is to be any stability in that corner of the globe. Potentially, a new sort of appeasement would be led by China and South Korea to get Kim Jong-Un to work with them in some way that does not only benefit North Korea; China spends millions of dollars supporting North Korea, only for the purpose of keeping South Korea from touching them along the Yalu River, out of fear of American influence (the same could be said of Russia as well, as they share a meager 11 mile land border and a 12 mile sea border, which, to me, doesn’t seem worth fighting for). It’s a touchy subject for them, but perhaps the details of the arrangement could be worked out later. In order for this option to succeed, it depends greatly on the compliance of North Korea to sit down and talk as opposed to screaming when they feel left out: the world must open to Korea, because Korea will not open to the world.

What makes this option more realistic, at this point, has to do with the many recent events that seems to have turned public opinion in favor of North Korea, particularly North Korea’s support of the Paris Peace Accords. In my personal opinion, this is a ploy and a tactic to make it seem as though they are willing to change their ways — Otto Warmbier’s release, though, makes this fallacious.

Option 3: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

In reality, there is a third option: leave North Korea alone. We wait for it to collapse naturally, over a long period of time, when either Kim Jong-Un or one of his heirs decides, much like Gorbachev, that North Korea can no longer truly keep up. Or, they continue as they always have, suffering and threatening and collecting dust as a cool antique from the Cold War that outsiders occasionally visit, sneaking cameras in, to show the world how bad it is, while no one does anything about it.

I like to call this option the Easy Way Out.